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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the park we’ve visited the most in the U.S., and Clingmans Dome within the park is one of our favorite places we’ve visited. Named for U. S. Senator and explorer Thomas Lanier Clingman from Ashville, North Carolina, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park, and this mountain provides gorgeous views from 6,643 feet. Not only are the views stunning, but this outing also provided us with one of our longest in-person bear sightings in the Smokies.
Of course, you should obviously keep your distance from all wildlife. The general recommendation from authorities is to maintain a distance of 100 yards from black bears. Do not call out to wildlife to entice it to come closer, and certainly don’t offer food. And though your instinct may be to run, that is also a bad idea. Sometimes, though, you may just be hiking along a paved path in a national park, and a bear pops up on the trail. Try to remain calm. But more on that later.
Getting to Clingmans Dome From Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge
If you’re staying in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge as we did, it’s pretty easy to get to Clingmans Dome. Though the mountain is on the North Carolina side of the park, the drive is scenic and worth the time. The drive is about 23 miles and took us about an hour. In fact, the drive to Cades Cove on the Tennesse side is longer; it’s 33 miles from Gatlinburg and will take about an hour and a half one-way. Click here to read more about Cades Cove.
When heading to Clingmans Dome, simply leave Gatlinburg and head in the direction of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Follow the signing. You’ll want to take Highway 441, also known as Newfoundland Gap Road. Eventually, you’ll come to a sign directing you to Clingmans Dome Road. This will lead you to the parking lot and the beginning of the paved trail to the observation tower.
On our adventure, we left late afternoon. It was summertime, so we still had plenty of daylight. The higher we climbed in elevation, the cooler it was. You may want to bring some layers to add, even in the summer.
Along the Journey to Clingmans Dome
Along the way, there are many pullouts for various overlooks. Because of the views like the one above, they are hard to resist.
Eventually, you’ll get to the Newfoundland Gap Comfort Station and the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.
If you need a restroom break, this is a great stop. It’s also a great place to see more beautiful scenery in the beautiful Smoky Mountains.
Not long after you cross the state line, you’ll see the sign for Clingmans Dome Road. This road almost follows the state line itself. The road ends at the Clingmans Dome Trailhead and visitor center. In the late afternoon, we had no trouble with finding a parking spot.
The trail is paved, which is nice. It can be a little strenuous since it is going uphill, but we managed it okay. You can certainly rest as needed along the way.
As we were walking the trail, we were surprised by this black bear that stepped out of the woods! Please forgive the video. I was a little excited to see a bear, and I wasn’t a blogger at the time. We also had some bystanders standing near us and talking.
As you can see, some experienced hikers came along and made some noise so the bear would continue on its way. It’s not good for wildlife to get too used to people, but we were grateful for the opportunity to see the bear!
After the bear disappeared, we continued onward. Soon, we saw the observation tower.
The observation tower has a ramp that winds upward to the observation deck. It’s kind of nice that it’s not a bunch of stairs. You’re still walking uphill, though.
Once you’re at the top, the views are worth it.
Beauty is in every direction.
I could post these pictures all day.
It almost feels like you can see forever.
As you can see, a trip to Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountain National Park is definitely worth it. If you’re heading to the area, this is a must-do. I hope we’ve inspired you to explore all the wonders of the Smoky Mountains!